Former TV Producer Sued for Spying on Activists
Corporate intelligence (sometimes called "industrial espionage") is a billion-dollar industry that uses spy-type tactics to gather information on business rivals and opponents.
As the New York Times reports, recently
attention has focused on the unsavory tactics some firms use to gather information. Last year, it emerged that the producer Harvey Weinstein had hired four investigative firms, including K2 Intelligence, to dig up information about women who accused him of sexual misconduct. One of those companies, Black Cube, had an operative pose as a women’s rights advocate to try to win the confidence of one of his accusers.
As NPR reported, the Black Cube firm was also hired by aides to President Trump to "get dirt" on one of former President Obama's top national security advisers, in an attempt to discredit the Iran nuclear deal.
Corporate spying can be legal. For example, the use of "secret shoppers" to check customer service is legitimate. It's also a common and legal practice for a company to try to gain competitive information at trade shows — especially in the bar after everyone's had a few drinks.
However, the theft of trade secrets, or passing along stolen trade secrets, is a federal crime. Even attempting to steal, buy, or sell trade secrets is a criminal offense.
The penalty for the sale of stolen trade secrets can be up to 20 years in jail.
As the Times reports, former TV producer Robert Moore had once worked on "Candid Camera"-style prank shows that fooled unsuspecting people. When he was down on his luck, he became an operative for corporate intelligence firms.
K2 Intelligence paid Moore to spy on activists campaigning to ban the use of asbestos as a construction material. He reportedly earned about $100,000 per year for his services.
According to the National Cancer Institute,
Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Asbestos is banned in more than 55 counties, but it's still used (in small amounts) in the US.
Moore represented himself to anti-asbestos activists as a documentary filmmaker who was sympathetic to their cause.
In reality, he secretly tape-recorded the activists and monitored their strategy sessions.
Moore denied any wrongdoing, and said he was secretly working as a "double agent" to help the activists. He said he was trying to expose a Kazakh oligarch with interests in asbestos mines who be believed was behind the K2 operation.
Moore claimed he only sent K2 worthless information.
The activists have filed suit against Moore and K2 in London, claiming that their personal information was illegally taken.
The plaintiffs are seeking:
- damages breach of confidence and/or misuse or private information
- compensation under the UK's Data Protection Act of 1988
K2 also asserted that its investigation and tactics were legitimate.